Like the rest of you, I was thrilled when I learned that federal parity legislation finally passed. Finally being the key word here. Congress had been considering this legislation in one form or another for years, and despite broad bipartisan support, getting to this point took way too long.
Our advocates deserve a standing ovation for their constant efforts to get parity legislation passed, and working in a legislative system that often defies common sense. Without their unwavering perseverance, we would not be celebrating this landmark legislation.
While I certainly applaud federal legislators for finally passing parity, I'm not letting them off the hook for taking so long to do it. People all across the nation desperately have been waiting for their action. While congressmen wasted their time (and benefited from parity in their own health plan), countless numbers ran up against limits in their behavioral health benefits and faced real, perhaps insurmountable, barriers to their recovery. Yes, the legislative process takes time, but when lawmakers are really motivated they will act quickly, as was the case with the financial bailout that was parity's ticket to President Bush's desk. The suffering of millions of Americans with behavioral health disorders warranted a quicker legislative response.
Perhaps more than at any time before, the behavioral healthcare field stands united, celebrating a common victory. Professional organizations and advocacy groups in both mental health and substance use treatment worked together to achieve this landmark legislation, and let's hope that this spirit of cooperation continues. Congress can do a lot more to improve the lives of people with behavioral health issues, so let's keep the heat on lawmakers. Parity legislation is only one part, albeit an important one, in the field's fight to make the world a better place for people with mental illnesses and substance use problems.
Douglas J. Edwards, Editor-in-Chief